Island Blog – The Other Side of Things

Walking, I know Spring is coming. She is right behind me and before me and that is quite an achievement. For the last few days I have walked in a different way. Slower, more present, less turbulented by inner thoughts, thoughts that were back there, at home; thoughts of what this and what that and where is this thing and do I care? I realise as I walk that the natural world is able to spirit itself into my senses, alerting them and altering them. My feet and my body are both discombobulated, momentarily. You can tell I love long words. Oftentimes I must needs dash to my dictionary in order to explain the word that came to me, unbidden, unbound, as a challenge. Ok, it says, you dragged me up from the depths as I slept, as I have done for many years and now you must define me, explain, make me fit into your sentence. The last time I breathed air I was with Dickens, Samuel Pickwick, the Brontes or some other dudes who fashioned long words into marvellousness.

Walking, I notice my boots. They are fur lined even if the fur bit is a tad thin. I bought them in Shetland in the best shop ever, many years ago. I had gone there because my son asked me to join him. Oh such a beckoning. Who could refuse such a welcome. He was training fish farmers on their boat licences and he asked me. Me. Me. Whilst he trained in February waters in the wildest of seas, I wandered the streets and found this boot shop. My thing. I turned in and met an open warm space and just me with two boot assistants. The lighting was warm, the space open and in I went. They are still my favourite boots even after all this time and despite a random dog pinching one whilst I was respectfully barefoot in house and chewing its peripheries, I still walk with them. I tell them, you were born in Shetland and you think this walk is difficult? And we continue.

Beneath the trees I hear spring birdsong and the wind, the wind sings me a different song. All winter I have heard the fierce ice winds burning the skeletal trees with a stripping menace in their various voices, mostly north and east, but this song is different. It is softer, a bit. Today I don’t hear the snip clack of broad leave wind blow. No. I hear the soft wave pulse of wind in the pine needles. There are no leaves yet to snip or clack, but they are coming and I feel it today. I see kill on the track, a dove I think and I pause. You were here, I said, you and the hawk that took you down. Life and death, my favourite cycle. Sunshine dapples the spreads of space, spreads that will soon enough be taken over by bracken. Let us love it, this space, this looking beyond whilst we can. I see the sea-loch. I think of the oyster farmer down there, the fishermen out there and beyond ‘out there’, who now cannot find a buyer for their catches and who are flipping scared.

I see an old fallen beech. You’ve been down a while my friend, I say. You fell like a starburst and I remember when you did. We were still at Tapselteerie. You fell five limb wide, and so politely. In the night. You could have taken out a whole village with that spread but you didn’t. Such is the kindness of nature. And, now, you may well warm new hearths, or you may melt back down into the earth that birthed you. Its is no longer in my hands to decide that for you. But I do see the wild honeysuckle that winds her tendrils over you broken body and she smiles me. Your skin is silver and pocked and so very wide. You stood for hundreds of years. Salut, my friend and thank you.

It thinks me of death and dying politely, of Popz who did exactly that, and I know that this evening will be a tough one for the missing that will overwhelm me on my return home. And here it comes like a sledgehammer. No amount of thinking happy thoughts, or of dragging up those upbeat wisdoms stops the tsunami. Well, if they can’t then nor can I. Best go with it. I eat something whilst listening to dancey music and try to bop but my legs refuse to engage. I drink one too many glasses of Ribena and just know I have made things worse. My sleep is poor and sketchy and I wake at 4 am with a lead balloon in my belly. No point turning over you stupid idiot for sleep has left the building. It is dark as soot out there and there are many miles to go before morning opens her eyes. I shower, dress, make strong black coffee and sit with my slit eyes and my lead belly and my regrets. I don’t cry, cannot cry, for there are no tears left after last night’s flood. I miss you, I say, you old goat, you stubborn, immovable, controlling so-and-so. And I have so many questions I will never get answers to such as What is this thing with a plug at one end and a doo-hic at the other? Why are there three drawers of wires that look up at me, dazed when I pull them open? Who the hell are you? That’s what they ask me. I close the drawers and can hear them muttering to each other, the yellow ones, the black ones, the grey ones and that single pink one which is probably the only girl in the camp. Good luck to you, I call over my shoulder as I leave the room, and, I continue, just for the record, I shall be throwing the lot of you into the wheelie soon enough.

Sorting through his effects, that’s what brought this flood thing on. I have been sorting all week and it seemed like a good idea to clear, organise, clean, label, name as best I can, and then to divide the mementos by five children, five more who know about the missing. But in handling what he held in his own hands has risen up many memories, many feelings in my heart, confusing emotions, doubts and anxieties as I worked. Feeling guilty for he never shared his ‘things’ when alive, I keep going. I remind him of the times I asked him to share and I remember that rigid look on his face. No, he would say (or shout), these are MY THINGS! Not any more old man. Not any more, and I am almost done, bar that huge collection of shirts and tees, jumpers and sweats. I have no idea what to do with them, not yet. One day I will.

Today will be a slow one and I will stick on my smile, brighten my face with make up and tell myself the game is on once again. One day at a time, don’t think too much, just keep moving. It works even if it is all pretend at times. I think of others who ride this roller coaster with me. Hallo to you. We’ve got this, you know. We may fall but we get up again. Spring is coming, the light brightening, the pandemic losing its power over us and we have so many reasons to be grateful and happy even if somedays it takes a miners’ headlamp to find a single one. Keep going friends. Never stop long enough for the doubts, fears and anxieties to catch up. Fight them off and laugh at how easy it is. Laughing, just one guffaw, can send them all into space, such is the mph of laughter. Try it. I plan to.

Island Blog – You First My Friend

Lockdown, schmockdown. Time gentlemen, please! It is almost a year since this whole stay home thing began and it feels like it may never end, even as I know it will. Of course winter hasn’t helped in our slow trudge back to what we took for granted so easily before. This time has made us think, stretched our inner resources and taught us new skills. Some of us have become bakers, some painters, some just good with the management of Time which, to be honest, has turned into something we all notice and some of us, minute by minute. To say ‘I am Too Busy’ are words for caseworkers and frontliners but not for most of us. Most of us can spend ages staring out at the rainy dark wondering what on earth we can do to turn this day into something other than a trudge.

I know we must wait. I know not one of us wants yet another lockdown as the restrictions lessen their grip on our days. I know this, but knowing something and living it are two very different things. So how do we continue when we feel fed up with the prison we are all in? One day at a time, that’s how. There is no other way to face this. Many of us, if not most, have hit rock bottom a few times over the past year and for good reason. Not being able to hold and hug, meet and talk, visit and touch are all alien concepts for a human race. No travel, no lift share, no hand holding, no gathering of friends around a table. And, for some, the death of a loved one. It abnormals us, all of us. And yet we must abide and we all know it. However, the damage done by such restraints will show once we re-emerge into the light of ordinary life, it has to for we are not all strong like bull. Some of us, isolated with our fears and doubts, our imaginings and anxieties, will need a hand to walk again. Some of us will have lost confidence around more than two people, two we know well. Strangers may appear even stranger. We may be asking ourselves, Where have they been, what have they touched, who have they met with? The natural reach out for a handshake may be compromised, a hesitation freezing our limbs and stumbling our words. We are going to need help.

Let us who are strong like bull consider all of this. In any mix of people there will be ‘outsiders’, folk who hesitate, who are shy, afraid, unsure and compromised by this long incarceration. Emotionally we may be damaged and damage takes time to heal and then only with help. Let us remind ourselves that odd behaviour may well emerge alongside the damaged ones and let us keep our hearts open. Let us wear our coat of empathy in our rush to the shops or the cinema, theatre, concert. To consider all other human beings is to be truly human. We are, after all, a team. Together is the word for the future, not alone, not any more. It didn’t work after all, now did it, this alone thing? I beat you to the front of the queue might have felt good at first, been reflected in a higher salary or the best parking space, but the elevation of such ‘success’ will never sustain its position, not for long, and it brings no lasting peace, not to the winner, not to the ones left behind. How much more benefit might be felt if I was to turn in grace to another and to say ‘You first my friend.’?

You first my friend.

Island Blog – This Woman, Risk and Fear

I have always loved poetry, not that I can write it, not like those who can distill waffly thoughts into 3 words that say it all, enough to gasp me. As a child I remember my mum making up ditties and rhymes, fun poems, poems that rhymed and made my feet want to jig along with her words. My dad, a wordsmith for sure, would entertain us around the Sunday lunch table with limericks that had us in stitches. He could think ahead as his mouth spoke out the line so that the follower came just like that in perfect rhythm and rhyme. He loved the iambic pentameter too and was a big fan of Shakespeare. Words were everything in our home. Words of remonstrance, of encouragement; jokes at our expense and jokes we could share. One game was that someone began a poem, oftentimes a limerick, There Once was a Bandit from Neath, for example, whereupon all eyes turned to the unfortunate required to come up with line two. It always ended in laughter.

But my favourite poems are those about life and loss, pain and rising, hope and despair. Short lines, no punctuation, thus allowing me to drift down the page all the way to the end. Some poems rise instead, beg to be read again and again so that I undulate the page and find that it doesn’t matter where I land for the lines themselves are each an ending, or a step to the next line, but not necessarily. It thinks me for I have noticed something about me in these times. I want to play my piano but I don’t. I want to paint but all I do is cast a wistful glance at the stack of canvas, the brushes still in their plastic wrapper, the paints quiet inside the dark interior of the kist. I want to write my second book but I find endless reasons. and excuses not to even begin. Why is that? I have found an answer. There is something, some part of me, deep within who does not see the point. If there is nowhere for this new song to go, this painting to go, then why would I bother to begin? If I start this book, how do I know I can still cut the mustard, or is it custard? I forget.

Although I know, and preach, that it is the process that matters not an end result, perceived and imagined, I find my own self stultified and frozen at the starting block. It is indeed a block. So what to do? If I believe that anyone can write, paint, write a song or form a poem, which I absolutely do, and if I maintain that the only difference between a successful writer, painter, poet and the rest of us is practice and the refusal to stop trying, then what the heck am I doing sitting on my lardy arse being wistful? It ridiculouses me. But the block is still there no matter the logic I employ for what I am facing is the fear of failure. I am basically saying it is better, safer, for me to say I cannot do this than it is to peel off my armour, to be vulnerable, to risk. After all, my armour, despite being heavy and restraining, is comfortable. I have grown used to it clanking about me, learned how to move with it. It is my concealment, my hiding, my protection. From what? Failure, that’s what.

Back to everyone else. Someone said yesterday I Can’t Paint. I Wish I Could. The feeling part of me rose like Venus from the waves. I asked her this. Have you tried? yes, she said, but I just made a mess. So did I, I said, at first, but with determined hard work and the refusal to give up I suddenly (!) found my paintings in galleries all across the country. Really? she said. You must have a gift. No gift, I said, not me. It was pure determination and the refusal to give up. Oh, she said, then tidied herself up. I don’t have time anyway, she smiled, but I had heard the timbre of her longing. Wisdoms tell us that we can do anything we set out to do whilst Life says Sshhhhh to that nonsense. Look at you! You are so busy, so old, so compromised, so restricted, so disabled, so poor at grammar etc etc. And we listen and we concur. After all, isn’t it true that only young people can start something new, learn the language, play the instrument, write the song, or other people who have time, space, the perfect environment, the supportive partner, and the right level of self belief? No, it is not. When I wrote Island Wife I sat in this room whilst my husband padded around me. I was freezing cold and had small spaces of peace and a lot of interruptions. My drive was simple. I am sick and tired of not doing what I want to do, of waiting for the right light, the perfect environment, the ideal room temperature, the permission from a partner. Lunch was late if served at all, the phone disconnected, the doors shut and visitors shunned. I won’t pretend it was a comfortable time, not least because I had shucked off my armour and it was February and most of February was inside the house. And I had absolutely no idea of this book’s success. All I knew was that I was going to show up every single day, take the flack and the crap and focus on what I wanted to do. My achievement was not in the end game, but in the process, the work, the grit of determination against real and imagined odds.

So, clever clogs, why are you not sitting at that piano and working new songs? Why are you not throwing colour at that canvas with no end result in mind? Why are you not writing your next book? Because I am afraid of failure. What is failure to you? Is it not being published, not having a body of astonishing artwork to display to the public, not producing the song that will go viral on Youtube? Seriously? Well, yes. So, continues my feeling self, what shall we do about all of that? Shall we sit here wistfully till life folds into death or shall we pull up our long johns and begin something, risk something and then fail and fall, get up and try again, over and over and over till we create a momentum that takes us who knows where? Is life a daring bold adventure, even now, or is it nothing at all but a clean house, a silent piano, an unused voice, an unwritten book and an empty canvas?

My Hobson’s choice indeed and not just mine. If there is something anyone wants to do but who lets the naysaying voices win over, I’m with you. However, this woman is not listening any more. This woman is about to begin something in the face of fear, of imagined failure, and of being armour-less, vulnerable and scared. Risk is everything. Take one.

Island Blog – Second from the Right

I am very happy to have had my covid jag. It never crossed my mind for one minute to refuse it and I was astonished to hear that anyone would. However, that is not my business. My arm was mildly sore for a couple of days and I felt tired but otherwise escaped any side effects, not that I would have minded them. I have, after all, been given a small dose of a killer virus and my body has had to fight it, the busy little thing that it is. I said as much. Well done busy little body, still standing by me after all these decades and ready to leap into action in the face of assault, snipers posted at all vantage points, unlike me who would struggle to leap in anyone’s face these days. My walking is slower. Noticed. My rise from a chair and my return to it more considered. Turning my head quickly can send my eyeballs into disco mode and I hold the bannisters when ascending the stairs. I don’t know when this began and it doesn’t bother me even if I do sometimes remember, wistfully, the younger mountain goat in me, the one everyone begged to slow down, sit down, sit still, the one who was more girl gone than girl sitting.

I still feel a big fudgy today but without any discomfort. I can rest when I want now that all demands are silenced and the only demands around are those I make upon myself. Yesterday I made none at all but instead sat watching a TV series and drank cups of tea beside the fire. Outside is not worth looking at to be honest. Wind and more wind, gusts that make the windows flex most alarmingly and slanty rain that comes in great punches. It’s February, I remind myself, the month of slanty rain and wind punch and time travels so fast. It reminds me of other Februarys, stomping down to the steadings, early doors, in enough waterproofing to allow lift-off should a gust decide to punch. I am going to feed the calves, about 15 of them, with sliced swedes. I think about swedes. I know some very good looking ones with bodies and green eyes and big muscles but these are not on the menu today, more’s the pity, and I would hesitate on the slicing thing with them. These swedes are cold, round and hard-skinned and I have to feed the damn things through a hand-turning swede slicer. It takes ages and a lot of effort to raise enough for the babies who await breakfast. Eventually, and puffing like Thomas the Tank Engine, I fill the troughs and 15 heads are instantly lowered. Whilst they are distracted I move into the pen behind them to rake out yesterday’s muck and straw. I get too close and without even turning around one whacks me a belter on the knee with a hoof. I shoot backwards, airborne, or it feels like it, to land on my butt right in the middle of the muck pile sending it up and out, as if a bomb had just landed. I am that bomb. The muck flies out, turns back in and lands all over me, face, hands, waterproofs. I am livid and very sore. Struggling to my feet I resist, with great difficulty, the urge to stick a pitchfork tine into the arse of Second from the Right, who still doesn’t turn around. Once breakfast is done, I herd the calves out into the rain and wind for a merry day in a soggy field with no shelter and no grass. By the time I return to the farmhouse kitchen, all but my face is cleaned of muck and the turn ups of my too-big waterproof breeks hold enough water for at least 8 goldfish.

I am glad those days are done and glad that I lived them when I did. Younger, I bounced back more quickly. Of course there was no time for moaning or whining about a face covered in calf leavings, nor sympathy for my big fat red sore knee. I was the fool who got too close, remember? This is farming life. You have to keep moving, keep going, keep upright because if one goes down everyone loses. I loved that life and loathed it in equal measures. Even now as lambing time moves closer, I remember the thrill of being so vital to the day’s work, however hard it might have been. Being active as no matter of choice keeps a body fit and supple, a mind clear. It is different now, now that my activity levels are all down to me and there is a noticing required in my older days. Keep moving, keep finding something to make you bend, reach, walk, move, climb, lift or you just might seize and freeze into a shape of great inconvenience.

When I limp back down to bring the calves in later that same day, I stand at the gate rattling a bucket of cake (not our sort of cake) and I can feel a fire in my belly. As they file through the gate I clock Second from the Right and give her one hec of a thwack on her arse. She bucks and flips and turns to face me, snorting. Right back at you Missy, I say. Right back at you.

Island Blog – Free to Live

Yesterday I went for my covid vaccination. There is a new something in my blood, in my muscle tissue, that will forever change me. I am not the woman I was when I left home, all nervous and in loose fitting clothes for easy access and with my mask in my hand. The swerve and swoop of the drive through the silent and single tracked glen showed me big warm cows and fluttering water birds already singing a Spring song and behaving like they just fell in love. This swerve and swoop thingy will tell those who know me that I was not in the driver’s seat. I haven’t swerved or swooped for decades. I prefer 30mph at best. My son drove me and here’s another change. That time in the car with him was energising. We spoke of this and that, of cabbages and kings, of children and DIY and how am I and how is he. He made a mental note to collect fuel at the garage once we arrive and whilst he waits for me.

We arrived at the church with its footsteps urging Faith, Hope and Love and I walked over them feeling all three. I walk to the door of the church hall and see about 5 women sitting apart. I presume these are vaccinatees awaiting their jags so I pull away and back to the car to wait, for we are early by ten minutes. More cars pull up. Through their windows I see well known faces I have not seen for at least a year and it lifts me. We smile and wave at each other. They are also nervous and in loose fitting clothing. And waiting. After a few more minutes I go back, thinking this:- Flaming Hec, Fairbairns, why are you always so obliging? Get up and go ask! jeez…… perhaps these figures through the glass door are nurses, waiting inside whilst we litter the road with our own waiting. We could all be here for days. So I did walk back up over Faith, Hope and Love and those 5 women did indeed turn out to the nurses having a lunch break. They beckoned me in, more faces I know so well and have not seen for almost a year. Smiles and welcomes and how are you/s. It felt so good to be among people. It felt so good to see their bodies move, watch them laugh and interact and to flow like fresh, living water. The jag took seconds. Relax your arm. I chose my left, for I have heard an arm can be a bit sore for a couple of days and I am a rightie. Love your tattoo she said as the needle went in. Everyone does. It is, after all, a work of art.

Thats you! She smiled and I reapplied my loose fitting clothing. As I moved back to the car, to my son, I spoke with the queue of other 60 odd year olds, friends, familiar and loved faces and ones I have not seen for almost a year. We shared news, briefly. How is life? Oh, you know, ok. I saw their eyes above their masks and saw the strain. We will all feel it but seeing it in another’s eyes tells us the truth. This past year and the not knowing of the one in which we have now landed will show in our eyes and on our faces once the bandit coverings come off. It has to. Loneliness and isolation, fear and frustration, exhaustion and the loss of faith and hope is inevitable.

We have sunlight. That is what we tell ourselves. We have a new day, our inner core strength and our gratitude list. But there is a cost. Any time of deprivation will cost us. However we do have resourcefulness and that bloody mindedness that keeps us rising like the light, like the tide. Ebb and flow we are, rise and fall; sometimes a lift for others and sometimes needing a lift ourselves. It is reassuring somehow, this need for each other, this need to have a visual on those we took for granted before, calling out a brief Hallo as we hurtled through our to-do list for the day. Can’t stop, must dash, another time. And now we move sluggish and slow, filling in the hours, wondering when we can get back to that unthinking normal.

Another night, another morning. I move like an automaton through the early chores, light the fire, make breakfast. The silence in the house feels like a weight today. So many questions float around with the dust motes and with nowhere to land. Life with another is all about interaction. Question asked, question answered. Now I have to answer for myself. Agreed, the irritability factor is removed from my life now but a part of me, on mornings like this, long for it, for connection, communication, interaction; a meet in a doorway, a stand back, an ‘after you’; a smile, a laugh, a ‘listen to this’ or a ‘did you know that..’ Nothing. I hear a song come on the radio and the lyrics sing me. I hear about some stranger’s achievement or a joke or a story. I listen to the wind and hear the rain blatter the conservatory roof as those little bits of fallen masonry skitter about like mice tap dancing. Still dark, but I did lug in wood yesterday having checked the forecast so it’s only a garage snatch and grab.

All across the UK people are coping or not coping with this extended isolation and the discomfort of not knowing when it will all finally get better. Sometimes I play a game. I take myself into the little town to meet a friend for lunch in the bakery. I hear the buzz and bustle, the exchange of chat between other tabled folk, between the serving lassies and the customers in for a pie or a cake. It’s warm in here, happy, ordinary, normal. Later I decide to dress up and to go out for dinner. Seafood I think. I always do. Candles, the clink of glasses, the smiles of the waitress, the wave to the chef as he pops up for air, the feel of my dress and the chats with those who pass my table on their way to theirs. These are distant memories, once the norm and taken for granted, for who could have predicted the life we are all now living? I remember signing up to work in the hospital cafe on the mainland as a volunteer. My shift was settled, my uniform secured. That was almost a year ago.

I wonder what will come of this time? The faces I met with yesterday told me we have all changed in ways we never imagined. The easy flow of conversation was not as before. Standing back, no hugging, no touching, no sneezing, guffawing or coughing. Moving awkwardly around each other is confusing. We are not like this and yet we have had to learn new ways and the toughest part of all lies in our not knowing when it will stop. Will we remain fearful and awkward long after life begins to flow once again or will we let go of that fear and awkwardness? I have no answer. Friendships may have been lost through this time and new ones forged. We will emerge as newborns into the light of ordinary life I suspect, blinking in the sudden light of it, our eyes looking out for love, for connection, for purpose and direction; for lunch al fresco, picnics, dinner by candlelight, impromptu parties or just walking with mates, close up, touching, hugging, sharing rise and fall, ebb and flow, free to live once again.

Island Blog – Conversation

I miss it. Conversation. Talking to myself is all very well but I know what is coming next, in the main. This morning, from 4 am, I soaked some sun-dried tomatoes in fragrant herby oil, washed spinach leaves for later, ironed my latest baby playmat and ate breakfast at 5. This means I feel like lunch by 11 so I asked the clock not to look at me like that and proceeded to fry 3 small slices of Hallumi cheese, adding salad, tomatoes and olives. Lunch done by 11.15. Now what? I’m bored of you, I tell myself. I can sense her behind me. She is a bit huffy at first but she is me and me stands her ground. We face each other. Look, I say, no offence but we have been stuck together since March 14th 2020 and apart from Himself #compromisedandsilent, carers, nurses and doctors, it has been just us. I think we have both aged ten years. It certainly looks like it in those mirrored reflections. We have just run out of interesting things to say to each other. Oh, we can jibber about what to eat for lunch, and jabber about timing for a dog walk or the rain or puddles or the mail arriving or if this tree will finally land on the house having threatened it, noisily, for days now, but it is just is not enough. Not any more. Our thrill today was two phone calls, one to call me in for a covid jag and the second to tell my my application for a postal vote is being considered. The excitement is deafening.

After we have talked awhile, she suggests, as we are both extremely tired, that we watch some TV. TV? Inside the daylight? You are so kidding me, no way. Aw, come on, she soothes. I know that tone and I bristle. We are weary and bored of each other, she reminds me. I feel a bit uncomfortable as I hadn’t considered she was bored of me too, but I got over that quickquick. Stand, ground etc. I capitulate. I don’t want to sew, nor clear the mess in the garden, nor lug in the logs, nor pretty much everything else. Ok, I concede and make tea. Call the Midwife, that will do nicely. I turn my back to the light, to the view, to the window and the rain and slump down in my horrible cream leather armchair with push button leg elevation thing. I bought these horrible cream leather sitapons for easy wiping down when Himself was dropping food like there was no tomorrowland. Anyway, once I have watched one, cried every time a baby was born and moved on to the next, I know she made the right decision for us both. It passed the time for starters and somehow calmed me. Now that thinks me.

Triggers. I was told and in no uncertain terms by my mother-in-law that sitting down in the daytime was unforgivable, as was buying myself flowers or a ring, definitely not that. Watching TV in the daylight was about the worst of them all. It was perfectly fine for men to do that, to watch cricket or football or Parliament in session but not for we women. Good god no. We should be ironing, washing, preparing food, preserving fruits, shelling peas, that sort of thing. We could read a book as long as it was a cookery book or one that guided us through the vast and imprisoning rulebook on wifedom, motherhood and active community engagement. It seems that trigger is alive and kicking for I feel it sharp-toothed and even have to check that my guide on How To Be The Perfect Woman isn’t standing right behind me with that look on her face. Ah. Let us take a look at this. It bizarres me in this considerably more freeing but not finished yet by a long chalk culture around what women should and should not do or be, that the voices of my past still hold sway.

I walk the dog, a bit wearily I must confess and she, the dog, was a tad miffed at the shortness of it, but it was raining and I was weary and just how much do you think I care about that? All over her face, yes, it was. Home, and some exercise for Henry who was surprisingly agile considering all that time he sits on his butt in the cupboard under the stairs with the spiders and the mice and the old photos of people nobody has a clue about. I am glad the gale has blown herself out. She was way too loud for me. I wonder where she is gone? Does a gale dissipate, fliffle away to nothing or does she hit another shore with the same ferocity she brought to bear here? I don’t know. I am just happy to have her gone. I see the branches, limbs, strewn across the track, in my garden. The bird seed is everywhere but on the table. But it is quiet now. There is peace now. And for that I am thankful.

The fire burns merrily. I am safe with myself and she’s a good egg to be honest. I suspect this marriage of minds is complex. We have never had so long together, never. There was always someone else, or someone elses to chip in comment, demand, decide, guide, lead and support. Now it is just us. It may take awhile to learn how to live together.

Island Blog – Triggers and Returning.

Last night the gale began. It roared like a lion and punched at the walls of the house. I heard bits of masonry fall onto the conservatory roof which is plastic, and I winced from beneath the warm duvet. Sleep left the room at that. Too many before nights on Tapselteerie with my husband or sons at sea or even just out there on the land. I had trees falling on them, waves swallowing them, wind blowing them off cliffs, all of it, because they loved it, the craziness of a gale, the unpredictability of one, the thrill of being a part of such wild wildness. From my place at the window or in bed in the absolute darkness with those punch fists holding destruction in their grip, I shivered. I shattered. All possible tragedy shivered the bones of my heart, my thoughts rollicking from one disaster to another with no happy ending for me or for them. I am still that way.

I went out to feed the birds and was almost lifted off my feet by one vicious gust. I admit I was compromised at the time. Twisting to check the pantiles on the roof, and in a frock #balloon, I felt my legs buckle. I held my stead. Fast. Staggered and remained upright but only just. Later, as the minutes moved into hours and way too slowly as if Time was playing with my mind, teasing most cruelly, I went out again to sort the ferocious flapping of the tarps on the wood stacks. I held onto the drystone wall for support as I lashed them down with old dog leads. We seem to have an abundance of them. Where once this abundance drove me crazy, I am now glad of them. In the latter stages of dementia Himself would purchase more and more of what was of importance to him, dog leads being just one on a very long list. There are still 6 mobile phones, 4 Notepads, iPads, those things, stacking sealable plastic store boxes, leads for everything from the aforementioned to motor bike chargers (no motorbike) small things for back ups on everything electronic, new hand held landline phones and on and on. They lie here still along with Henry in the quiet of the cupboard under the stairs, waiting to be useful.

All day long I sewed more baby mats, completed one, one of 6 that are also waiting. For babies. Soon I will need to ask for babies because when I work at something, there needs to be a point to aim for and in this case, in this time, it is babies. Do we become thus obsessed as we age I wonder or is this lockdown s s s mentality? The isolation plus grieving, can it turn a mind into something we observers might have laughed about, rolled our eyes at, until we find ourselves in that land, where it is no longer a laughing matter? I listen to an audio book as I work, someone else’s story, any story but my own today. I flinch as another crash tells me more masonry is falling. On checking, this time in trews for safety, I see no evidence of demise in my walls. Do I imagine this sound? Is this a trigger for me, an old memory rising in the today of my life? It thinks me.

As I, with help, navigate my unsteady way through grief and loss, I am beginning to notice my reactions to what happens, even small things. I notice when I flinch. I don’t remember flinching as a young woman. with children around my skirts, even as I know I will have done. But there is a difference when it is I who need to be the strong one, the one who can hide an inner flinch and turn it around, make it okay for the fear around me. Instant solutions spring to mind, fuelled by a surety of strength and a solution. On Tapselteerie we had windows blown out in gales. The noise was terrifying and it was always in dead of night. Calming, reassuring, finding an old door to wedge against the blast of a threat, a broom to support, was what we did. Bringing children in close, into bed, finding stories, teaching laughter in the face of terror was what we did. And we did. So many times. Roofs lifting. It’s ok, just watch, I said, as we all stood there in pyjamas and fleeces and facing a gale that could destroy a home in minutes and without another soul knowing anything till morning at best. My own heart might be shakingly terrified but my protection of my children kept me calm and my husband knew what to do. As teenagers they witnessed a whole 32ft mobile home buck and lift and crash back down whilst their dad fired up his digger and held it down with the bucket and chains as the rain drenched us and the collies squealed and disappeared into the darkness. In that darkness, in the shout and scream of that gale, her punch and release, her volatile craziness, my kids whooped and cheered their dad through the sheeting rain and I shivered and shook and tried to keep calm.

A call to arms. Pre our resident lifeboat he was on call if a sea-goer was in trouble, and he was called many times. There was always a storm and it was always dark. He would go, fired up, excited, ready to challenge and to work with Mother Ocean. It always confounded me how good he was at working with her when he was so lost around me, around his daughter. We were strong women too but obviously not speaking a language he understood. Any kids old enough to go with him would be dressed and ready in minutes. Again I am left with the walls shrieking at the gale and my imagination my only companion. I won’t say Friend.

These memories may be triggers. They probably are. Gales mean destruction and I feel impotent when they come. He knew how to prepare for them, knew they were coming and from what direction. He knew what had to be tied down, secured and what lay safe this time. I will learn my way around them for we have plenty of them and each is capricious at best, lethal at worst. New ground. New learning. I remember the whoops of my children. They love it wild, the wilder the better and they are no fools around the wild. They grew up with it, leaned into it, learned from their dad whilst I stayed home making soup for their returning.

Island Blog – Spindrift and Rememberings

The ice is melting though the wind is ferocious cold, swirling with stories from the north, enough to make my eyes water. The ground is hard as iron, water like a stone. Waterfalls are strung with icicles and the rocks coated in ice froth. Inside the car we are warm with our own stories of times long gone, the people too, characters in the theatre of our shared history. We exchange funny tales of this person and that, re-enacting the scene in our minds as we tootle our way over the switchback hill, avoiding great expanses of ice-hold. In the rear view I see the village receding, falling away into the valley, the frozen sea glinting in the lemony sunlight.

We are off to the vet. You would be forgiven for imagining we were headed for outer space because the climb is steep and our craft points skyward for miles. Peaking, we return earthwards, our vista now of outer islands settled in a different tidal flow. They look so close and yet it would take a couple of hours by boat to arrive at the nearest. The sea chops and twists as wind fights tide. I see smoke, no, not smoke, spindrift. Spectacular clouds of it lift like eerie dancers from the waves, rising into the sky. We stop to watch. Well, actually we are stopped. It isn’t a choice for there are big warm bodied highland cows all across the road. I am glad they have such thick gold and chestnut coats. They stand and stare and we stare back into big dark eyes. It seems they hold sway on this single track curl of a road. We inch forward and they pull back. There will be calves this spring, little kick-heel babes and this track will be awash with their leavings. I remember a story. On a frozen snow day many years ago when my children were young, they grabbed our old wooden toboggan and dragged it up a hill. Crowded on its back, they looked like the whole colour wheel. Faster and faster they sped, shrieking with delight, until they met a frozen cow pat. The sled exploded into a thousand splinter shards and the sky was full of flying children. I was glad of their puffy snowsuits and the soft arms of a snow landing. We had kindling for days.

Returning a different way we snake past farmhouses, cottages, empty self-catering bothies, a castle and the carved out bay with the machair now protected, erosion held at bay for a while and then the curl of silver white sand. I remember all our visits here over the last 43 years. Children, visitors, dogs, barbecues, picnics, games and swimming. I remember boats and play, football, cricket, sandcastles and moats. I remember him. He loved walking here even when he could barely move far and not without a stick for support. I wonder how he felt then, once he realised this decline was no longer to be held at bay like the erosion of this beach. He would never be drawn into such a conversation so I can only guess. His attitude was always that his life had been magical; he had nothing to complain about. I can see him down there as we round the bay. Hallo you, I whisper. You won’t see the machair wildflowers this summer. You won’t walk here again, nor lick your lips at the thought of Charlie’s ice creams or a cup and cake in the cosy cafe atop the hill. You won’t laugh at the dog biting the waves or watch grandchildren dig holes to bury each other.

It’s ok. I’ll come and remember for both of us.

Island Blog – Mythbusters

First I listened to Brene Brown on Vulnerability and Shame on audio whilst I sewed a baby play mat in colours of unicorn, fairies, stars and, bizarrely, dinosaurs in peplum frocks. Next, a recommendation from my little sister, It’s Ok that You’re not Ok by Megan Devine. Another mythbuster, refreshing, raw, a real approach to grief and loss. They both speak my truth, one I can now know for myself instead of all the other ‘truths’ that have no idea. Actually, it isn’t that they have no idea. Not that. It is more that they had no way of connecting with anyone who spoke out their shame, their vulnerability, their grief or loss. Some truth talker throwing their pain into the air confounded me and I did what most of us do. I searched my brain for fixatives. Time will tell. Things will get better. He/she is safe now, home with God, in the Elysium fields. Or, No! you are not weak, not guilty, have no need for shame, self blame, fear. Now, all I feel in the blast of these good intentions, is irritation, anger even. I want to run, to yell at them but I don’t and I won’t because now I get it. Our culture has no coping mechanisms for such a meet. We don’t want it. We hate it. We wish we had never met this messy person and we long to make it better. So, wait, what can I say? I know……Time will heal, things will get better, are you busy, are you eating, sleeping, exercising, enjoying nature? Maybe you should look for another man, way of living, place to live, job, passion? All upturned as querulous questions and there’s me behind them hoping I just said the perfect thing.

I find my home through the myth busters. Politely I always did in song lyrics (acceptable) or books parked in genres, equally politely, in book stores. You don’t have to go that way if it isn’t your thing after all. I always did. The ridiculously trapped genre of Self Help covers a million issues and is the most shelf dusty. I noticed that. Fiction, that’s what we want, diversion, distraction, and for the kids, we want pretty pink unicorns, tutu-ed fairies, equally pinked up, and stars, oh stars, all bright and not dying, no way, and then those dinosaurs in peplum. Happiness. Don’t knock it. It is what we are all seeking, after all and yet who has really found it in its entirety? Nobody, that’s who. Those childhood hopes must be dashed, eventually and yet I can see how it would never work to teach them Grimm, as I was taught. Fairy tales in my day were dark but when I read those tales again I just know I would never put a little hopeful face before those words. But what happens when we hit the adult world of super tough? We are not prepared and maybe that is how life works. Our culture is all about fixing. I feel low Doctor. Here are some pills that will help, just for a little while, until you get back on your feet. And, they do, but the core changeth not, the core that is my pain. The caring professions seek to wrench us from our self-destruct and to point us to our own star. Of course they do. Who wants yet another collapso?

And it doesn’t have to be bereavement, this awkward and uncomfortable truth that walks around with a person. It can be any pain at all. There is no competition. Every one of us who knows how it feels to be abandoned, lost, angry, vulnerable, knows this awkward and uncomfortable truth. It is our truth and not something to be flapped away or fixed. We are not fixable. We are in this for as long as it takes and that is that. However, we will put on a good face for that is what we are taught. Responding to someone who benignly and lovingly asks, How Are You with an honest response is not allowed. We just won’t answer honestly because why? Because we are taught to think of others and this Other who stands before might well fall like a tree if I told her my truth. Awful. Can’t sleep. Am never hungry. Don’t care if I don’t wake up. Feel like a yoyo. Anxious, fearful, afraid, lost, crazy at times. I won’t say any of that. I. Am. Fine. That’s what I will say and always say no matter how much that someone asks. And, the truth of it is this. I am. Fine. Because what I want, what someone navigating the void of pain wants is time and space to get on with this. I won’t even say ‘through this’ because I have no idea there is a ‘through’ at all. ‘Through’ suggests an end result.

Today the ice is wild and spectacular. The sea-loch shoreline is capped with rainbows. No unicorns. As the sun hits the smokey ice cover, it flashes back at me, colour shift and then flat grey again, in a nanosecond. I live in those nanoseconds so I get to see. Other walkers might miss it but not me for I am greedy for it all and I am always watching change. A lone woodcock lifts from the bracken and flies right over my head, her wings speckled, spectacular, her flight unmistakeable, her aloneness palpable. Did you see her? I ask two walkers deep in conversation. See what? they smiled. I just smile back. This is my life and yours looks like this. Cosy, designing supper for two, a warm fire, sharing, plans for tomorrow, next week, next birthday. On the track I see dichotomy. On the north side the granite is cold and dark, ice-sheered, silent. On the other side, snowdrops respond to the sun warmth and open like hope. Icicles as long as a spear head and too fat for my fingers to encircle hang northly. Across the track, sun dapples the plane tree bark, warms the new buds, smiles me. I feel at home as I always do when I am alone. One side of me is frozen. One sun warmed and beginning new life.

I am fine. I want solitary. I have no idea half the time how to get through a minute, an hour, a night, a day, but I will not tell you that because you, as I once had, have no idea what to do with such a raw and bloody truth. However, with these brilliant myth busting women and their courage to speak out, I finally, finally, find a path I can walk that is ok with me.

Island Blog – Grief, Music and Cooking

I miss him. It’s like I am forgetting the last ten years of caring and remembering the before times, the good times. I wake at 2 am, cold, and turn to borrow his warmth. It really shakes me at first until I remember where his body now lies, in the frozen ground. I feel the warmth of his hand in mine, that I Am Safe Now feeling. I never slept well, unlike him but he always woke enough to calm whatever storm was going on inside me. I miss him. I wish I had told him he was my everything but I did not. The way we changed, the children who came and whose needs became our modus operandi and our division bell, the way life upped and downed us, all stopped my mouth. Why didn’t I say it? I just don’t know. My deep need for independence was of such importance to me that I forgot to remember the basics. Ah, regrets! All I can do now is to talk to him as I move alone through my days. I am thankful for the rise of good memories even as they do not come without guilt and regret. This is grieving.

Downstairs I flip on the radio. The Living Years by Mike and the Mechanics. A tad cruel. I think back on Mike, Angie and their two sons in our big kitchen at Tapselteerie. We are sharing tea and cake and Mike is telling my kids, whose eyes are on stalks before this celebrity visitor, that he had never had a guitar lesson in his life, that he taught himself in his bedroom. It is just what they needed to hear. it doesn’t matter how you develop your passion, he says, just as long as you do develop it. Remember that. When I look at my five children now, as adults, passionate about their work and with barely a qualification between them, I know they took Mike’s words to heart.

I empty the fridge drawers of veg. Onion, garlic, butternut squash, sun-dried tomatoes, apple, ginger, lime, red pepper, leek and kalamata olives. Add honey, balsamic vinegar, tinned tomatoes, white wine, herbs and seasoning. It simmers now on the range and will last me days. I always cook for a platoon. Old habits die hard. I make a flavoured olive oil (extra virgin) mix and pour it into one of those sealable jars. I soak more sun-dried tomatoes for a little, chop them and add them to the oil mix, for later, for lunch perhaps, in a tortilla wrap, not that I have ever worked out how to fold those damn things effectively. I always need a shower after a tortilla wrap. The music plays on.

Poppy dog comes downstairs. She doesn’t mind that it is still night time for most people; she just works with my wakefulness and if I am up then it must be breakfast time. I boot her out into minus 2 degrees for a quick pee and prepare her food. Dried kibble topped with raw carrot slices and a few bits of chopped chicken to draw her in. Kibble, after all, is a bit dull on its own. I order a small extending lead for our daily walks for she is going deaf and no longer hears my callback should we meet another dog. Although she is all bark and no bite, or all fur coat and no nickers, it can alarm folk, the noise and the rush of her. I think of how it is these days without tourists and of how all that will change when they return to walk around Tapselteerie, to lose themselves inside her wild beauty. We islanders have enjoyed a year now of peaceful bliss even as we need visitors and their cash. One side of the coin and the other. It thinks me.

Ten years of caring and I am glad it is over. 49 years of marriage and I miss him. How tricky it is to find perspective in those two opposing thoughts. How fine it will be when I do. When he was declining, I became practical and cool. I stayed that way right up to his dying. Perhaps I became what was necessary and productive for the times but now, as I begin to soften, I have regrets. Can anyone hold balance when facing the appalling horrors of dementia? Perhaps not. One day I will write on this, but not yet. My inner writer tells me there are many miles to go yet. Many miles too, till morning.